FOX Soccer Exclusive
Future all bright for Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich’s 3-0 win at Barcelona in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League semifinal at the Camp Nou sent the Bundesliga champions through 7-0 on aggregate to meet fellow German side Borussia Dortmund in this season’s final. Most importantly, however, Munich’s victory looks to have brought the curtain down on this previously all-conquering but now worn out Catalan side.
The game started with Barca talisman Lionel Messi on the bench, and was still goalless at halftime. Arjen Robben’s characteristic strike early in the second period killed the tie stone dead - and a Gerard Pique own goal and Thomas Muller header piled on the agony for the home fans. The game ended with Bayern in complete domination, and Barca in total disarray.
During the pregame buildup, the “remontada” atmosphere so evident in Madrid on Tuesday night, was absent around the Camp Nou. The mood was further dampened by the news that Messi was not fit enough to start. Ex-Arsenal pair Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song did not inspire confidence in the 90,000 home fans taking their seats in the ground. The pregame mosaic read “pride” which most felt was all Barca were really playing for.
The blaugrana supporters mustered some noise early on, but Bayern were unruffled, taking their time passing the ball around neatly in midfield to suck any energy from the game. Robben had the best early chance, but dithered too long and Pique got back and cleared.
Barca tried to force things, but with Fabregas again struggling to fill Messi’s playmaking boots, Bayern were always comfortable. Midfield terriers Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez were another booking away from missing the final, swapped the snapping tackles of the first leg for a more reserved approach. Instead of muscling Andres Iniesta off the ball, Martinez let him run with it and shepherded him down a blind alley. The end result was the same - a Barca side going nowhere.
A Pedro 30 yarder was safely cleared away by keeper Manuel Neuer, and Xavi hook-volleyed over from eight yards lifted the home fans momentarily. Both central defenders Marc Barta and Pique tried to inject some urgency by carrying ball forward out of defense to no avail. There was no sign of a Barcelona comeback or of Messi moving from the bench.
Bayern’s opener - five minutes into the second period - came from changing things up too. In the first leg, Robben had scored by going outside and shooting low across the keeper. Here, he cut inside to give himself a better angle, and curled the ball high past Adriano and goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
With Barca now knowing they needed 6 goals in 40 minutes, Xavi Hernandez, who has not looked 100 per cent fit for months, was immediately withdrawn. There was no point in even risking Messi now, so Alexis Sanchez was introduced. A totally subdued Iniesta was substituted soon afterwards too, with Thiago Alcantara in his place.
Bayern began to celebrate on the field, stroking the ball around the perfect Camp Nou surface with Franck Ribery, Martinez, Schweinsteiger and Robben prominent. Those minutes must have been particularly sweet for Martinez, who faced Barcelona 15 times with former club Athletic Bilbao, without winning once and losing the 2009 and 2012 Copa del Rey finals. He was heavily linked with a move to Barcelona last summer but ended up in Munich instead. The Basque is unlikely to be regretting that turn of events after two wins in eight days.
Just when it seemed things could not get any worse for Barca, Pique sliced a Ribery cross into his own net for 2-0. It was three when the Frenchman again got down the left and crossed for Thomas Muller to nod in at the back post. It was turning into a massacre and disappointed fans started making for the Camp Nou exits. The seven goal two leg margin easily passed the Catalan club’s previous record for a European Cup aggregate defeat; 2-6 against Madrid in 1960 and 3-7 against Valencia two years later.
After the match, Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes saluted his side after the match. "My team understood our tactical approach very well and they executed it perfectly,” said Heynckes. "I know Spanish football very well, especially Barcelona. I know the way they like to play and their philosophy. However, there is no denying it - Barcelona is a different team without [Lionel] Messi. Still, I'm sure no one expected us to win 7-0 on aggregate."
This was Valdes' 100th Champions League appearance, and maybe his last as the keeper has ended talks on a new contract. He has won three winners medals in that time, as have many of his teammates. Other experienced men like Dani Alves and David Villa could also be moving on this summer, while Xavi and Carles Puyol are now increasingly showing their ages. Fresh blood looks needed from front to back.
For Bayern, the future could not be brighter. They are heading for Wembley to face rivals Borussia Dortmund on May 25. "Now we're in the final. It's the third time in the last four years, but it's time to win it now,” said Robben after the match. "It's going to be a big one. Dortmund have proven over the last two, three years that they are a very good side. It's going to be a big game again which will be decided by the small details."
In sharp contrast, Barca’s journey back looks longer from here. For Tito Vilanova and club president Sandro Rosell, it could be a busy summer.
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